July 2015

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July is a fairly non-eventful month in regard to observing other than being able to watch Venus and Jupiter drift apart and the appearance a Blue Moon.  However, it will be a very eventful month for researchers when New Horizons passes by Pluto, giving us the most detailed pictures ever, not just of Pluto, but of its moon Charon and other moons as well.


PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Venus (W), Jupiter (W),

Planets you can see throughout the night – Saturn (EàSW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – None


Mercury – Not really worth looking for this month.

VENUS Look West after sunset and it will be the first “star” you see, shining brilliantly in the evening twilight until about 10:30pm.  If you have binoculars or a telescope, you may be able to see the crescent phase of Venus. It gets lower and lower as the month goes by and isn’t visible by the end of the month. Close to the Moon on the 18th.  

Mars – Not really visible all Month – is on the opposite side of the Sun.

Jupiter – Find Venus in the West after sunset, then go to the right to find another bright object which is Jupiter.  Throughout the month, it will get further away from Venus, but still set at about the same time, earlier and earlier each day, until you won’t be able to see Jupiter at all. Don’t forget the binoculars or telescope for the Galilean Moons and the cloud bands on its surface.  Close to the Moon on the 18th. 

SATURN – Saturn is already in the S after sunset and moves across the sky to the West and sets by about 1am. Close to the Moon on the 25th.


Full Moon – 1st (Visible all night) 

Last Quarter Moon – 8th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

14th – New Horizons Spacecraft passes by Pluto at 9pm. We’ll get some “browse data” and pictures by the next morning, but it will take months for all of the data collected to get back to us.  It’s already sent some great pictures home. More info here.

New Moon – 15th (darkest skies) 

18thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Jupiter – Get out around sunset again and wait until you can see either the first “star” which is Venus, or the thin crescent Moon. Venus will be right above the Moon, only about two Moon-widths away, with Jupiter a couple of times further away to the right.  This will be difficult to find, given they are both low on the horizon in the bright dusk sky.

First Quarter Moon – 24th (Visible until midnight)

25thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Get out after sunset and look South for a waxing gibbous Moon with Saturn 4˚ below and to the left. By 1am, they’ll be closer and in the West setting.

Full Moon – 31st (Visible all night) – Second Full Moon of the month, typically referred to as a Blue Moon, although there are a couple of definitions. Read more here.


CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

Just after Sunset (around 8:30pm) – Bootes, Corona Borealis, and Hercules.  Bootes is known as the shepherd, kite, or ice cream cone.  You can follow the arc of the Big Dipper’s handle to get to its brightest star Arcturus.   Hercules has an Extra Challenge! Look for M13, the Hercules Cluster in between two of Hercules’ “keystone” stars.  It known as the best globular cluster in the northern skies.  It will be a fuzzy spot in binoculars and will be even cooler through a telescope

Midnight – Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila (a little to the south) – These are the Summer constellations, and since they are visible right above us around midnight (and to the west after sunrise), it’s now summer!  More details below in the “General Constellation Finding Tips”  Extra Challenge! Look for M57, the Ring Nebula in between two of Lyra’s stars.  It is 2,300 light years away, which means we’re seeing what it looked like 2,300 years ago.  The shell that you see is the remnants of the central star that blew up some 20,000 years ago.  It has a donut-like appearance through a telescope.  It’ll be easy to find, but tough to see in binoculars, so get the scope out.

Early Morning – Pegasus, Andromeda


Summer Constellations: Lyra, Cygnus, Aquila, Delphinus

Look to the east after sunset or straight up around midnight and you’ll be able to see Lyra (the Harp), Cygnus (the Swan), Aquila (the Eagle), (and Delphinus the Dolphin.)  These three constellations have the three brightest stars of the summer constellations (Vega, Deneb, Altair – respectively.)  Those bright stars create the summer triangle.  Off to the east of this is the small but beautiful constellation of Delphinus. 

Spring Constellations Bootes, Virgo, Leo, Corona Borealis, Hercules. 

First find the Big Dipper in the North (a North Circumpolar Asterism that never sets) and look at the handle.  Starting at the star closest to the “cup” part, follow the rest of the stars in the handle and follow the arc to Arcturus.  Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Shepherd.  Some say he looks more like a kite, others say more like an ice cream cone. 

Then, following the same “arc”, speed on to Spica.  Spica is the brightest star in Virgo.  Virgo’s a dimmer constellation, so you’ll be rewarded when you find her. 

To the left of Bootes is Corona Borealis.  This is a small collection of stars that make a crown, cup, or U shape in the sky. 

To the left of Corona Borealis is the great constellation of Hercules.  Hercules is the Hero of the sky and has a central “keystone” asterism, in which lies M13, the Hercules Cluster. 

Lastly, Leo is a constellation consisting of a backward question mark (or sickle) and a right triangle to the left.  Use the two Big Dipper “cup” stars that are in the middle of the Big Dipper and follow the line they make to the bright star Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.